Clouds of politics, design issues overhang Main Street Machias ramp proposal

Posted June 15, 2012, at 5:02 p.m.
Finding a way to make the entryway to this downtown Machias storefront accessible to the handicapped  is proving to be a challenge for the owner of the building at 23 Main St., and public officials who must approve construction. The issue has been under debate for months.
Dan Barr
Finding a way to make the entryway to this downtown Machias storefront accessible to the handicapped is proving to be a challenge for the owner of the building at 23 Main St., and public officials who must approve construction. The issue has been under debate for months.

MACHIAS, Maine — An effort to make more downtown storefronts accessible to the handicapped has driven one Machias retail shop building owner to attempt to increase the town’s awareness of the issue from within.

Sandra Bryand has owned buildings in downtown Machias for more than 15 years. Her first building, which is home to the Bags o’ Rags thrift shop at 40 Main St., was retrofitted with a wheelchair ramp installed by the previous owner. Another building she owns, at 23 Main St., has no ramp.

When Holly Garner-Jackson recently agreed to move her Woodwind Custom Framers and Gallery into the space at 23 Main St., she suggested that a ramp be built. Bryand liked the idea, thinking a change of tenants would be the perfect time to fix what she always had considered a flaw.

The town disagreed, balking at Bryand’s initial design approval requests for a ramp that, like the one on the Bags o’ Rags building, would require a footprint on a city-owned sidewalk. The town agreed to hire an engineering firm to explore other solutions.

Bryand already had decided to run for an open Macias Board of Selectmen position — she had been a selectman in Whitneyville for 15 years — before she first proposed the ramp design to the selectmen in April. When the town delayed the ramp, she saw the June 12 local election as an opportunity to work with the town leadership by winning a spot among them. Though Bryand would have to recuse herself when the issue of the ramp came up, she hoped that she could convince the other members of the board to support her cause.

After weeks of campaigning, Bryand lost her election bid on Tuesday, finishing third as two incumbents, Danny Manchester and Glenn Davis, kept their seats. Without a place on the board, Bryand is back to square one on the ramp construction issue.

When the Board of Selectmen rejected the ramp design she proposed in April, Bryand was told that the ramp design did not conform to the specifics of the Americans with Disabilities guidelines, something the board said would be required.

“It was a few inches over standards,” Bryand admits. “But, according to the ADA, if you can’t meet standards, you must build as close to them as possible.”

The selectmen suggested accessibility be provided by using a space next to her building that currently contains a staircase to a riverfront parking lot. That proposed solution remains clouded by uncertainty over who is responsible for that area. Bryand says that the town owns the area and sees a contradiction in the town’s offer for her to use it.

“I don’t understand how they could offer me public space, while telling me I can’t use public space [the sidewalk],” Bryand said of the town’s proposal.

Town manager Chris Loughlin sees it another way.

“The stairs and fence are owned by Ms. Bryand,” Loughlin said. “The town’s plan is to have engineers design a way for her to use it for her ramp.”

The difficulty in assigning responsibility is only one hurdle the ramp construction project faces. Bryand says the awkward angle to the sidewalk means that careful planning needs to be done to ensure that the ramp is not a safety hazard. Built in 1890, the building could be considered exempt from a mandatory ramp, based on the ADA’s definition of “undue burden,” but Garner-Jackson and Bryand aren’t interested in exemptions.

“Some of my artists are in wheelchairs,” Garner-Jackson said. “There’s no way they can get in my store.”

With both the town and the owner advocating a ramp, one thing is clear: Garner-Jackson’s handicapped customers shouldn’t have much longer to wait for access to her store.

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